From the Headlines – January 10-14, 2022

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Still smells: Stellantis has fixed the ducting issue at its Jeep plant on the east of Detroit, which had allowed emissions from the paint shop to escape untreated. The company also says it will install additional emissions controls after a third-party analysis found a high level of odor coming from the facility. But these moves may do little to assuage the concerns of Robert Shobe, who lives next to the plant and says the bad smells have persisted even after the ducting was fixed. “Out of a four, I would give it a two and a half, with a four being the worst I ever smelled,” he said. Learn more about these issues at a community meeting on Thursday, Jan. 27, where Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) will discuss air sampling, inspections, and compliance at the facility and take questions from residents. (Crain’s, Detroit News)

Back in business: Detroit Bulk Storage (DBS), the company that the city of Detroit believes is responsible for two shoreline collapses, has been permitted by a judge to resume some activities at their site on the Detroit riverfront. The company can only transport goods by truck, not by water. In December, Detroit forced DBS to shut down operations at the site to violate a cease and desist order issued in response to the most recent shoreline collapse. Chuck Raimi, deputy counsel, said the city wants technical assurance that another failure won’t happen if the company begins transporting materials by water again. EGLE estimates the gravel that caused November’s collapse was stored within 50 to 75 feet of the water, a violation of a permit requiring DBS to store it 291 feet away. (Crain’s)

Money for pipes: Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown says the city plans to use an infusion of federal infrastructure cash to replace 5,000 lead service lines per year. The funds will also pay for other priorities in DWSD’s master plan. Brown said that it can be up to 50% cheaper to fix sewer infrastructure proactively with competitive bidding instead of commissioning emergency repairs. It’s unclear if any of this money will be put toward backflow valves for residential basements or more pipe capacity for the east and west side of the city, which Brown and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan had previously identified as strategies to prevent basement flooding. (WXYZ, MLive, Detroit News)

Reasonable discussions: Bike lanes have been a hot topic in Detroit and the civilized online world of Nextdoor. Some residents say they’re a waste of taxpayer money or a tool to encourage gentrification. Others believe they’re essential infrastructure for a city where a third of residents don’t own a car. According to the Detroit Department of Public Works (DPW), bike lane use increased by 20% to 25% during the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly because people were spending more time at home and needed a way to get outside. But some feel more needs to be done to protect bicyclists from traffic by installing bollards and making sure bike lanes don’t suddenly end. “When you look at who is getting killed by drivers in this city, it’s usually Black people, and that’s because we haven’t prioritized creating an infrastructure that makes walking and biking in our own neighborhoods safer to do,” said Paul Jones III, a Detroiter and mobility advocate. In 2018, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners found that Detroit had the highest bicyclist mortality rate in the state. (Bridge Detroit) 

Buzz, buzz, buzz: Detroit nonprofit Bees in the D announced it will soon break ground on a native plant garden and community center dedicated to conserving native bees, honey bees, butterflies and other pollinators. The Michigan Pollinator Center will occupy several lots in Detroit’s Core City neighborhood, with the group’s headquarters constructed from shipping containers. “It will also be a home to around 100,000 honey bees that will have a “penthouse” space atop the center’s green roof! These bees will also give back by increasing produce yields in the numerous nearby residential and community gardens as they forage in a 3-mile radius from their hives,” the group writes. (Channel 4)

‘Not working’: Environmental groups say that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie is unlikely to fix the problem, which has contributed to harmful algal blooms and led to the shutdown of Toledo’s drinking water supply in 2014. Megan Tinsley, Water and Agriculture Policy Manager for the Michigan Environmental Council, says the plan is similar to an existing program in Ohio that relies on voluntary cooperation by farmers to prevent runoff and has so far failed to reduce phosphorus levels in the lake. “If it’s not working in Ohio, why do we expect that it would work here?” she asked.  Tinsley said the state needs to look into the construction of wastewater treatment plants to deal with the waste from animal feeding operations and purchase farmland that is contributing to phosphorus loads so that it can be taken out of production and enlisted in conservation programs. (Detroit News, MI Radio)

Superfunds: Four Michigan Superfund sites are among the 49 areas that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to clean up with money from the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill. The Michigan sites include the Ten Mile Drain site in Saint Clair Shores, which is contaminated with PCBs that were believed to come from a commercial parking lot. The drain flows into canals lined with residential properties and connects to Lake St. Clair. Nationally, there are more than 1,300 Superfund sites, toxic areas that the EPA has prioritized for cleanup. EPA Administrator Michael Regansaid that more than half of the areas slated for cleanup with this round of funding are in historically underserved communities. “This work is just the beginning; with more than one in four Black and Hispanic Americans living within three miles of a Superfund site, EPA is working to serve people that have been left behind,” he said. (Detroit News, Time)

Liquid assets: As western states continue to endure a historic drought, author Dave Dempsey questions whether the Great Lakes Compact will continue to protect water from being diverted away from the region. Passed in 2008, the compact largely prevents water from leaving the Great Lakes Basin, although several loopholes allow for diversions through things like water bottling. Dempsey says the deal is “as vulnerable to change as any law” and that various loopholes could be exploited to address water scarcity in the West. He also anticipates that some of the Great Lakes’ fresh water will be needed for humanitarian relief. “It’s going to happen,” Dempsey said. “We have global water scarcity and there are going to be emergencies where freshwater is going to be needed in other parts of the world. I personally think it makes more sense to share water with faraway nations to save lives than it makes sense to sell water to people who have plenty of it already in the United States.” (MLive)

Brine is the future: Road salt is causing problems, increasing the salinity in Lake Michigan, threatening smaller lakes and rivers, and contaminating groundwater. But a good alternative to road salt has been hard to find. “It’s far cheaper than anything else out there, and it works far better,” said Craig Bryson, spokesperson for the Road Commission for Oakland County. However, Oakland County has cut down on the amount of rock salt they use by supplementing it with liquid brine. Unlike rock salt, which can bounce off the road when dropped, brine mostly goes where it’s needed. And a 2019 study showed that using brine reduced the chloride entering streams by 45 percent. (Bridge, WaPo)


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